Naples on the Big Screen

Rossellini makes it – just in time

by Massimiliano Canzanella

Is there a propaedeutic film that I could watch before I leave for Naples? One that could prepare me for the many contrasting reviews that this city receives from its ever opinionated visitors? Also, one that could prevent me from falling into the annoying diatribe between the ineffable enchantment of the few aficionados and the unutterable repulsion of the more numerous detractors, that same nonsensical bickering that has made the fortune of many cunning commentators and travel agents alike?

Well, Viaggio in Italia (Journey to Italy – 1954), directed by Roberto Rossellini, may be the answer. The very film to see on the night prior to your departure.

As I am writing this post, the entire film is still gratuitously available on Youtube:

It was never a big box office hit. When it was first released, the critics were convinced that Journey to Italy was going to be Rossellini’s debacle. And they were unsurprisingly wrong. The same film soon became a precocious classic that eventually paved the way to a revolution in world Cinema with the French leading the way.

In the episode where Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders travel by car to Naples to complete the sale of an inherited property, Rossellini begins his own itinerary almost snubbing the supercilious husband’s remarks about the locals’ irritatingly uncivilised demeanour. From inside the car, we start to overtake all of the unnerving dichotomies: no holiness vs villainy, no good savagery vs georgic wisdom, no melodious speech vs incomprehensible gesticulations.

Not a single laughter, nor a tear. Not a contrast in sight. Except the gaping void eroding the marriage of an English middle-class couple fallen out of love after years lived in the distant midst of each other’s affectionate memory.

In Journey to Italy, the art-exuding sites enveloped in a millenary history contribute to an ephemeral atmosphere, where art, myths and archaeological excavations suddenly become a daunting reminder of human finiteness. The setting and the true light of the film are constituted by the engulfing force of Time. Time as a fleeting intuition, an epiphany which in the very last scenes of this jewel in Rossellini’s directing crown comes to life through a defaced crowd in a religious procession along the streets of Pompeii; a human lava that will pull them almost irreparably asunder until they are forced back together in an petrified embrace which catapults them both past their incommunicative composure. Never again apart, in a new place away from everyone and everything, to discover that there is still time and there will always be time for a new beginning, together. And almost for the past three thousand centuries, the city you will be seeing has carried that same wonderfully simple idea engraved in its own name.

About Massimiliano Canzanella: I am a writer and I am the proud author of the first novel written in Neapolitan. I currently live in Scotland where I work as an English Teacher in a Secondary State School.

You can find out more about my activities concerning the Neapolitan language via my Facebook page: